How appropriate that as I’m writing this, the rain is coming down in torrents…
This story begins 43 years ago when Hurricane Beth struck Nova Scotia. Beth was a modest Category 1 hurricane, but she dropped a substantial amount of precipitation (266 mm) over a fairly short period of time. The hurricane caused extensive damage across the province, and brought to light some serious infrastructure problems.
Dartmouth was not immune. The Sawmill River, which flows from Sullivan’s Pond to the Halifax Harbour, flooded, causing damage to more than 500 homes.
The solution of the day was to divert the river into a corrugated steel pipe that runs beneath the ground.
Dartmouth has grown since 1971. More houses, more people and more roads have brought us to the point where the capacity of the old pipe is no longer sufficient. So, in the spring of 2015, Halifax Water, with funds from the federal government via Infrastructure Canada, is planning on replacing the pipe with a much larger concrete one.
Now is the logical time, while this massive construction project is taking place, for our municipal government to seize the opportunity to bring the historic Sawmill River back to life. This process is called daylighting, and it’s gaining favour all over the world, both as a way to relieve the strain on aging infrastructure and to bring nature back to urban environments.
I believe Halifax Water’s current plans should be amended so that 90% of the river passes through the buried concrete pipe while 10% becomes an above ground stream that meanders through Downtown Dartmouth from the south end of Sullivan’s Pond into Dartmouth Cove.
An exposed stream would allow for gaspereau, sea-run trout, eels, and Atlantic salmon to spawn in the Dartmouth lake system. Fabulous for fishermen! The fish also have the potential to help cut off the nutrient supply to aquatic weeds. Good news for paddlers and swimmers.
A daylighted river would help enhance water quality, which is needed to maintain the Blue Flag designation at Birch Cove Beach in Dartmouth. According to studies, daylighted streams are up to 23 times better at processing nitrogen than buried streams.
Streams and green-spaces make urban living more attractive and desirable. Daylighting the Sawmill River means increased property values for the municipality.
The waterway from Lake Banook to the harbour marked an important travel way for the Mi’kmaw, and was what made the Shubenacadie Canal possible. With the closure of the canal, the stream was used to power Starr Manufacturing’s operations. The daylighted river would help the Shubenacadie Canal Commission tell the stories associated with the various phases of development in the area along the proposed Canal Greenway.
Here in Dartmouth, an open waterway and green-space in the urban core, along with the interpretation of heritage features, would be a major draw to tourists and local visitors. The influx of visitors would be a boon to local businesses.
We have the chance in Dartmouth to be the first community where Halifax council’s 2006 policy regarding the daylighting of streams is implemented. Let’s seize that opportunity and bring water and nature to the heart of Dartmouth!
How can you help?
Send an email to our councillors and mayor. (Addresses here)
Attend the Harbour East-Marine Drive Community Council meeting at the Sportsplex on November 13th at 6pm to show your support for daylighting Dartmouth’s Sawmill River.